Kristina Kuzmic has made herself a household name, speaking directly to mothers from the trenches of parenthood via her viral videos and social media presence. She is now bringing her message of self-acceptance, resilience, and joy to book readers. With a refreshingly unpretentious, funny, and galvanizing voice, Kuzmic goes behind the scenes to reveal how she went from broke and defeated to unshakably grounded and brimming with thankfulness. Illuminating the hard-won wisdom from a life always spent one step behindwhether it was as a high school student new to America, a suddenly single mother to two kids, remarried and juggling two teens and a toddler, or the unexpected recipient of Oprah's attention and investmentHold On, But Don't Hold Still is the book every mother needs to reassure her that she's not only fine just as she is, but that she already has more tools and support than she can possibly imagine. Sparkling with wit, this heartfelt memoir is like a long coffee date with a best friend, or the eleventh-hour text message that gives you just the boost you need to get through the night.
*The Huffington Post
A VIKING LIFE TITLE
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.44(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.71(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Wish Out Loud
There's a moment at most kids' birthday parties, just after the "Happy Birthday" song has been sung, when the birthday kid takes a big breath and gets ready to blow out the candles on their cake. "Make a wish!" the parents say. "But don't tell anyone what it is. If you tell, it won't come true!"
I hate this moment.
We're supposed to have big dreams and wild ambitions-for family, career, success, recognition-yet we're taught from birthday number one that saying what we want out loud is a bad idea. It's a jinx. It's embarrassing.
No matter what your aspirations are, whether you want to write a bestselling novel, host a talk show, or run the country, they'll never happen if you don't try. But it's hard to muster up the confidence to try without your loved ones cheering you on, and they're not even going to get the chance to support you if you never let them know what your dreams are.
That's why I do the birthday cake thing a little differently with my kids. At candle time, I scream, "Make a wish! Say it out loud! Yell it at the top of your lungs!" And then we all cheer for each other's biggest dreams and do what we can to make sure they come true for one another.
My hope is to give my kids the confidence to dream out loud. I want to show them that ridiculously good things do happen, even if they seem completely unbelievable. I mean, that's exactly what happened to me.
When my second husband, Philip, and I got married, we couldn't afford a honeymoon. I was still waiting tables, and he had decided to change careers and go back to school to become a CPA. (Because, apparently, there are people in this world who actually enjoy doing taxes. And math.) We were living in a small, run-down apartment in Alhambra, California, with my six-year-old son, Luka, and four-year-old daughter, Matea. To get to our front door, you'd first have to walk by a rusting, claw-foot bathtub that our landlord, a sweet old man named Will who lived upstairs in the building's only other unit, intended to turn into a fountain but never quite got around to finishing. (Honestly, I could see potential in his vision and would have loved a cheerful water fixture on my front lawn. Unfortunately, the reality is that it was just a tetanus hazard filled with what looked like poop water.) The first time I tried to open the oven door in our kitchen, the handle fell off. The washer and dryer were also crammed into the kitchen alongside the worn-out stove. But Philip and I were just so happy to have a washer and dryer at all. We were a very typical young family: we didn't have all the resources we dreamed of, but we had a surplus of love.
A few days after our wedding, I was running around our apartment as usual, doing, doing, doing, knowing I'd still probably finish the day asking myself, How did I get nothing done today when I did so many things? (answer: motherhood!), when Philip startled me with a question.
"What do you want to do? I mean, besides being a mother?"
"What do you mean?"
"You have all this creativity and all this passion. Is there anything else you'd want to do with it?"
"Like get a job other than waiting tables?"
"It doesn't have to be a new job. It can be a hobby. Or a job. Either one. Just something where you can use your gifts."
I stared at him blankly for a few moments. Being a mother of young children means you spend a lot of your energy thinking about what other people need. You're always wiping something for somebody or cutting something for somebody. When you finally make your way to the soothing blank bottom of an empty sink, it's almost inevitable that you'll blink and the sink will be full again. It's like some reverse Sorcerer's Apprentice trick, only instead of having the soaring beauty of the Philadelphia Orchestra as backup, your soundtrack is provided by toddlers banging away with wooden spoons on pots and pans. Just a few years earlier, I'd been going through a painful divorce while struggling to provide for my two young children as a broke single mom. I had been trying to keep my head above water for so long that survival mode was my default. I hadn't stopped to consider my dreams or desires, independent of my children's well-being. Philip's question genuinely caught me off guard.
"I have no idea. I really don't know."
This realization made me a bit emotional. I used to have dreams and creative ambitions. How was I suddenly this lost?
Philip handed me his car keys. "I'll take care of dinner and get the kids to bed. You just go. Go somewhere where you can think. Get away from the distractions of parenting and think about what you would have wanted to do if life hadn't gotten so hard."
I drove around the suburbs of Los Angeles-not really headed anywhere, just thinking. Sometimes you need to get away from the noise in order to hear your heart speak.
A few hours later, I returned home with a gas tank on empty and my mind on full blast. "I want to do something with cooking!" I said as I charged back into the apartment, out of breath from excitement. "Philip, I think I've got it! When I was at my lowest, cooking is what made me feel alive. Being able to feed people made me feel like I had something to offer when I had almost nothing. I'm thinking maybe I could start a website where I post my recipes. And, I don't know how we could make this happen, but maybe we could figure out a way to film some cooking videos? Something really fun, different from what's out there. I want to make the people who are watching feel empowered. I want to make other moms laugh and maybe even give them a little hope that their life and their kitchen and their cooking skills don't have to be perfect. None of it has to be perfect to still be really good."
"This is awesome! How can I help?" Philip pulled me in for a hug.
See that response? That's the response we all deserve when we articulate a new dream. We all need a Philip.
I spent the next seven months revisiting all of my favorite recipes. I had learned to cook from my grandmother, who never measured anything, and so neither did I. But now I had to start measuring out every single thing in order to write down all of my recipes in a way anyone could follow. My goal was to launch my website on my birthday (April 26) with exactly seventy-nine recipes (because I was born in 1979).
Philip saved up money and surprised me with a laptop so I could start building my site. He was juggling his grad school classes, helping with the kids, and running to the grocery store (sometimes four or five times in one day) so that I could keep refining my recipes. He was also solving the daily technical issues that kept popping up and also kicking my ass in the most loving way every time I thought about giving up. Jo, my best friend, who lives in Rhode Island, spent hours editing my recipes to make sure everything was grammatically correct. With four kids of her own, I'm not sure how she found the time, but she was rooting for me and so excited to see my passion lit up in this way.
As the end of April neared, I had to cook two or three meals at a time to hit my birthday deadline, and therefore completely misrepresented the culinary standards my husband and children should expect from me. Don't care for Thai? No problem, we also have Italian and French options on our menu this evening! I sent my children to school with warm lunches every day that spring like some kind of Martha Stewart protégé, and then disappointed them terribly when things eventually returned to normal PB&J fare. Thankfully, our friends were more than happy to come over to be our taste testers and help us chow down on the vast quantities of food coming out of my kitchen. Our landlord, who lived alone and was either 92 or 101, depending on which day you asked him, was the happy recipient of many of the meals I was working on, too.
The recipes were coming together, but I still really wanted to make a few videos to accompany them and wasn't quite sure where to start. I didn't own a good camera, I didn't own a smartphone, and even if I had, I knew nothing about filming or editing. Philip made some phone calls, and through his brothers, I was introduced to a character named Brian Hardin.
Brian is a tall, laid-back hippie who cares about health and nutrition the way I care about donuts and butter. He's creative and eccentric and funny. He always has a big smile on his face and regularly serves his guests sugar-free chia cake in an apartment covered with wall tapestries, mandalas, and peace signs. Brian also has a lot of experience filming and editing, and had already worked on a few documentaries and music videos when I met him. We hit it off immediately.
We mapped out six videos, which he charged me next to nothing for, because, as Brian said, "Philip's brothers are like family to me, so you're family now, too!" I maintain that he was also secretly excited to be force-fed bites of all the cheesy, gooey, chocolatey, bacon-filled recipes we'd be filming. Since we were ambitious, short on time, and completely nuts, we decided to shoot all six videos in one delicious, messy day.
I spent the next few weeks going to Brian's apartment, often with Luka and Matea in tow. While he and I worked long days editing the hours of raw footage into short, frazzled-mom-friendly
three-minute videos, the kids wreaked havoc on Brian's ashramlike living space. Brian didn't try to control the projects or direct too much. He saw that his job was to do what he could to bring out the best in me. He not only indulged my crazy, wacky sense of humor but encouraged it, and through his editing, he made me shine. Brian did this brilliant thing where he would tell me he'd cut but would actually keep rolling so he could capture me dancing to made-up songs and being my goofy self, and that often wound up being the best footage.
The very first video we filmed and edited opens with me standing in a friend's kitchen-the richest friend I knew at the time with the most expensive-looking kitchen. The audience sees me in this gorgeous home, talking about my perfect life. Then, suddenly, an elegant woman walks in and reveals that I don't actually live there, I'm just someone she hired to clean her house. From that, we cut to my real kitchen: small and old and messy. No granite countertops, no recessed lighting, just a wonky oven and a stained sink overflowing with dishes. And there I was, proudly showing off my very flawed but wonderful home. The entire point of that first video was to set the tone for my approach to cooking and to life: you don't have to be perfect or rich or fancy to thrive. Even more than my grandmother's three-cheese Croatian strudel, this message is what I most wanted to share with other parents.
Finally, on April 26, 2010, my thirty-first birthday, I launched my first blog, Sticky Cook. The name came from the idea that everything in my life was sticky. My finances were sticky, my divorce was sticky, my relationships with family and my ex were sticky, my children are sticky (because children, for some reason, even seconds after washing their hands, are always sticky), and my favorite foods are sticky, too. I also loved the idea of using a word that might have a negative connotation and turning it into a positive. My tagline read, "Life is sticky . . . Dig in!" Instead of trying to make life seem flawless, I wanted people to embrace the mess and the chaos and still create something delicious from it.
As soon as Sticky Cook went live, I started receiving supportive phone calls and messages from friends. I was so proud to have seen this project through, and so grateful for Brian and Philip and Jo and everyone who'd come together to help me make this dream a reality by my birthday deadline. It felt so good to celebrate this milestone with friends who'd been cheering me on every step of the way. There were even a few people with no prior connection to me at all who came across my videos or recipes and shared them online. I was thrilled. When I blew out the candles on my cake that night, I wished that this new adventure would thrive. And I wished it out loud.
Just nine days after launching the site, I received an unexpected email from a complete stranger named Kim Schofield. Kim got straight to the point, telling me that she'd seen my videos and thought I should enter Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star because I belonged on TV. Not only did I not know Kim, Philip and I didn't even own a working television, so we didn't know about Oprah's competition.
Even though Kim didn't know anything about me beyond my few silly videos, she was quick to answer all of my questions and encouraged me as if she had known me for years. She wasn't a producer or involved in the entertainment industry in any way. Kim was just a warm, middle-aged mom from Arizona who connected with my message so strongly that she felt compelled to write to me. Somehow, through the power of putting myself out there and the magic of the internet, I'd found an advocate. Or rather, she'd found me.
From Kim, I learned that Oprah was running the competition to promote the launch of her new network, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), and anyone could submit a video pitching their own TV show to her. Ten people would be chosen to be contestants on a reality show competition produced by Mark Burnett, an award-winning producer who had created shows like Survivor, Shark Tank, and The Apprentice. Each week, one entrant would be eliminated, and the final winner would actually get to make their own television show for the Oprah Winfrey Network. Entering required a three-minute audition video. By the time I learned about the competition, the deadline was only a few days away and more than ten thousand auditions had already been submitted.
Table of Contents
1 Wish Out Loud 1
2 Hot Dogs with Oprah 21
3 Falling Apart 37
4 Wednesday Night Dinners 55
5 The G Spot: Guilt, Grades, and Grace 71
6 I Didn't Tell 87
7 Cynicism Interrupted 101
8 As Is 119
9 Ne brini. Divno je. 133
10 Recovering Pessimist 147
11 Control Freak 161
12 Mind Your Own Motherhood 177
13 The N-Word 191
14 Empathy 201
15 Kids First, Ego Last 317
16 Raw Kale and Sprinkle Donuts 233